martes, 28 de abril de 2015

Black Architecture

This is a paper I wrote for a Diversity in Design Competition:

Keep Saggin- how a rapper, Lil B, encapsulates the essence of Black Architecture

Is there such a thing as Black Architecture? If architecture is defined by the built form of semi-permanent buildings, there is no such thing as Black Architecture. If architecture is defined as a mark of culture, then it can be found in sagging pants.

As a race of people, this including any person in this country feeling unable to express themselves fully, blacks have not established any new architecture. As an aspiring designer this is a blessing and curse. It shows the inherent disconnection of anything historical involving the black experience. Our history is only tied to being oppressed and tortured. As Malcolm X put it, they took our names, our religion, our language and our national identity when we came to America. We cannot go ‘back to Africa’, on one level because our racial lineage, like everyone else, is pulled from so many countries and places within and without Africa, that it doesn’t make sense. On another level, the time spent here in America has been enough to set a brand new trajectory of culture that simply does not exist anywhere except in the United States. Here is why this matters: the place we call home is the place of all of our nightmares.

So what does this have to do with design? I believe design is the mode of expression, how to physically encapsulate the zeitgeist. Understanding this, and understanding black history, a history of oppression (whether real or imagined), we can look at the ways in which culture and design sensibilities develop.

The crown of cultural expression is in the built form, architecture. It serves as the ultimate ‘permanent’ show of a freedom, a sovereignty of a community. As a people, we have not yet reached this plateau. I’m not saying black people do not have houses, I’m saying a prescribed program based on a ‘western’ ideal has always been used to develop these buildings. There isn’t free expression, it is assumptive and aligning to an overarching power structure that is not representative of a certain experience of a group of this nation.

So, what happens when the crown of expression is not achieved? Everything under it is over achieved. That is the reason our cars are coated in ‘candy’ paint, why they have 28” rims, why the stereo needs to be blaring. It is the reason our clothes are so vivid, patterned, baggy or skinny. It is why our music has so many curse words, such illusions of grandeur. It is why we have an entire vocabulary and word structure. In essence, it is loud. We are screaming at the oppression. Our expression is a response. We are trying everything we can do to say, “We are here”, in absence of a physical representation of that.

What is inherently ‘bad’ about sagging pants? You can point to prison culture. You can point to statistics about gang affiliation or crime or violence. You can say it’s not merely a coincidence. Sagging pants is the essence of Black Architecture. It takes a system of dress, and is simply about altering that system towards signifying identity. It is making something when given nothing.

The song ‘Keep Saggin’ by the artist Lil B is about deconstructing and explaining the harmlessness of the sagging pants style.

He starts the song with:

‘Keep talkin’ the past, but we livin’ in the future’

I interpret this as him saying, the meaning of sagging pants can be new, it doesn’t have to be dragged from the prison or criminal culture.

‘Got hated on with my niggas in here
But understand that shit, it's what I wear
You act like-whatever, but truth is there
Family at war and troops is dead
Feel me? Why I'm saggin I won't answer man
This is just my kilt’
‘The earth - no love - this is how I feel
Everybody tryna say I belong to this
You belong to that, we in the group with this
We gon' call you that
And we gon' act like this
You gon' act like this
You don't understand’

Lil B is being judged unfavorably for a simple fashion statement. He brings up a valid parallel about the Scottish kilt. It is just as jarring in this society for a man to wear a dress as it is to sag. The only difference is, the kilt is respected because it is worn by a sovereign people. He mentions family problems and violence encapsulating the culture he lives in. And notes that while the truth is presented of his environment, they brush it off and still judge and prejudge.

‘The door started open when my cash got right
They should've open doors for my people last night’

The only way to be accepted culturally is for your monetary worth to be significant. He wishes they would just accept the blacks for who they are instead before they attain status.

‘Live your own life and don't worry bout acceptance’

The nature of the sagging of pants is a direct affront to what is deemed appropriate for acceptance in society. Lil B advocates an acceptance within, and an acceptance and understanding that embraces differences in culture.

‘And I'm not with the rape or the hood
Going to the hood, and shit on the hood
Oil refineries, the water no good
It's a lot of love but no money in the hood
No focus man, when they come down too
Rather stay in your house, than go walk around’

He mentions the poor conditions that people live in that shows the necessity of any form of expression to satisfy the spirit. The air, water, visuals, and communal spirit, are tainted in this environment. At this point it is a show of survival, a pride in this, which makes sagging turn into a badge of honor.

‘Wear my saggy pants
I'm a keep saggin, I'm a keep saggin
Fuck that it's fashion’

Lil wraps up the song with these last lines. Sagging is simply a fashion statement, just like high heels or a suit and tie. Yet the society we live in restricts sagging from schools and the work place for its arguably false connotations. And if the connotations are true, Lil B is arguing that if you can understand the struggle, you can understand the need for expression that sagging of pants offers.

Sagging pants is a mark of culture, it is a mark of a person who can define themselves. This runs counter to the history of being black in America. The struggle for sagging pants is a microcosm of the struggle of acceptance, representation of a race in a society that it is oppressed in. Sagging pants is what the black experience is about. Sagging pants is Black Architecture. 

domingo, 8 de febrero de 2015

Occupy Shawnee Apartments

Email I received from my apartment complex concerning my window shade:

Hello Hasheem and Darrell,

I noticed that you have a brown window covering in one of your windows.  We require blinds to be kept on all windows so that the appearance of our property from the outside is uniform.  

You will need to purchase a new blind for your window by 9am Monday, February 9th.  If you need help installing it, please let us know and we will have maintenance hang the blind for you.  
The blind color is Alabaster and the size for the bedroom window is 47 x 48.  You can purchase these blinds at Walmart, Lowes, or Home Depot.  

We will be installing a new blind on Monday if you have not purchased one by the deadline above.  If we replace the blind from our inventory, we will have to charge your account $57. Again, we will be glad to hang your blind if you purchase the right color and size on your own.  

Please feel free to contact our office if you have any questions or concerns.  

Thank you,

My Response:

I have the blind. I hand crafted my 'light regulator' to beautifully illuminate the interior of my private space. It is a piece of my expression of self. And I am proud of it. I strive for a world where we as a whole are not afraid of being different and expressing who we are. The fear of being different is what holds us back from true happiness and equality. The need to be 'uniform' is a weak endeavor. Whose appearances are we keeping up? Who really cares how something looks if it isn't harming them? How is this any different than having a vase in my window? Or Christmas lights up? We have to be brave enough to be proud of our uniqueness. 

However, I will take it down and replace it with the industry standard blind I have been provided by Monday. I am an honest person that respects the authority that has gifted me with a space to stay. 

My hope I that maybe someone walking by has been inspired by my work. And if that has happened, that is all that matters and the 'brown covering' has served it's purpose. 

Their Response:

Thank you!